An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: Sarasota County, USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Florida flood risk study identifies priorities for property buyouts

News Image

A study of flood damage in Florida by scientists at UC Santa Cruz and the Nature Conservancy proposes prioritizing property buyouts based on flood risk, ecological value, and socioeconomic conditions. Forecasters say an above-normal hurricane season is likely in the Atlantic Ocean this year, while a rising sea level is making Florida increasingly vulnerable to dangerous flooding.

The study, published in the Journal of Ocean and Coastal Economics, focused on the problem of "repetitive loss properties" and aimed to identify lands in Florida that are potential targets for projects with multiple benefits: reduced flood exposure, conservation benefits, and remediation of social vulnerability.

The study shows the location of more than 15,000 repetitive loss properties in Florida which, collectively, filed more than 40,000 claims against the National Flood Insurance Program between 1978 and 2011 (more than 1,200 claims per year, on average). As of March 2016, the National Flood Insurance Program, which is up for reauthorization in 2017, owed the U.S. Treasury $23 billion.

Volunteer today for 2017 International Coastal Cleanup

News Image

Sarasota County is are seeking community leaders, students, aquaholics, and do-gooders alike to join Keep Sarasota County Beautiful and participate in an international coastal cleanup effort this fall!

Living on the water’s edge is an experience unlike any other, and is probably no small part of why you chose to live near Sarasota Bay. On September 16 and October 28 water stewards and citizens WORLDWIDE will get their feet wet in an effort to beautify their waterways, bays, and oceans. Did you know that the equivalent of 22,000 jumbo jets of plastic enters our waterways annually?

Together we can fight the scourge of trash in our oceans, volunteers picked up over 18 million pounds of trash in 2016 alone! If you want to join the fight against ocean trash or just enjoy a good day on the water, then you owe it to yourself and your underwater backyard to come out and join us.

Your Sarasota County Water Resources team is raising awareness of the importance of our beautiful tidal creeks and will be sponsoring a paddle cleanup on Alligator Creek on September 16th and Phillippi Creek October 28th.

Hurry, as spots will fill up fast. Those who wish to participate but prefer to stay dry can choose from alternate locations throughout Sarasota County. Sign-up and additional information can be found on Sarasota County's website or call: 941-861-5000. We can’t wait to see you on the water!

More Details

Cleaning supplies, including trash bags and gloves, will be provided by your cleanup leader on-site when you check in. Please remember to wear closed-toe shoes (no flip-flops).

Alligator Creek – Sept. 16 (Rain date Sept. 23)
Meeting Location: South Venice Yacht Club (4425 Yacht Club Dr., Venice)

Phillippi Creek – Oct. 28 (Rain date Nov. 4)
Meeting Location: Phillippi Estate Park (5500 S Tamiami Trail, Sarasota)

Boaters still needed for The Great Scallop Search in Sarasota Bay, Aug. 26th

News Image

The Great Scallop Search of 2017 launches from the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, 1717 Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota, FL 34236. For boaters interested in searching the Northern Bay and Manatee County, you can arrange pick up their maps and materials ahead to time. Please indicate this choice on the registration form below.

* * * * NOTE: THIS IS A NO HARVEST EVENT * * * *

Purpose of event: Help to monitor annually the number of scallops in Sarasota Bay waters and support scientists at the Florida Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI).

What to bring: Sunscreen, hat and sunglasses, mask, snorkel, fins and water shoes.

Reservations are required to participate in the event. Space is limited, Boats limited to 50, kayaks welcome! No boat? Sign on as a crew member and you will be placed on a boat, space permitting. Participants will be equipped and trained on how to search for scallops in seagrass. Experts from the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) will be on hand to answer questions and there will be a touch tank on display.

HISTORY: Scallops have been largely absent from Sarasota Bay waters since the 1960’s due to dredging and land development (the Florida Land Rush), the accompanying population boom and associated water quality issues. Today there have been improvements in water quality and a resurgence of seagrass beds to levels that may once again support these important bivalves in Sarasota Bay.

Suncoast Reef Rovers strike again! Marine debris removed from Venice North Jetty

News Image

Enthusiastic volunteers gathered on Saturday morning, August 11, 2017 for the Suncoast Reef Rovers annual underwater clean-up of the Venice North Jetty, a popular fishing spot. A combination of 19 SCUBA divers, 19 ‘topsider’ helpers, one kayaker, one snorkeler, and one Sarasota County Sheriffs police boat worked for a few hours to rid the underwater habitat of abandoned fishing gear.

Sarasota Bay Watch partnered with the Reef Rovers to help gather volunteers, sort debris, and gather data. The EPA donated sturdy dive bags and ReelCycle partnered to ensure best practices for waste disposal. NAUI Green Diver Initiative was also on hand.

The Venice North Jetty was cleared of:

  • 81 pounds of fishing nets
  • 82 pounds of lead (removed from the nets)
  • 243 pounds of abandoned traps
  • 108 pounds of fishing line
  • 72 pounds of rope
  • 55 lures
  • 6 fishing poles
  • 50 pounds of recycling

Full story with photos of the Rovers in action »

Record year for sea turtle nests means more hatchlings on beaches

This week marks the halfway point of sea turtle nesting season and Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program’s (STCRP) 36th year. So far this year, STCRP has documented a record-breaking number of nests from the north end of Longboat Key to Venice – 4,385 loggerhead and 77 green turtle nests. This is an increase of more than 1 percent for loggerheads and 1,183 percent for green sea turtles compared with the entire 2016 nesting season.

“With these significant increases in sea turtle nests it is even more important for beachgoers and local residents to be aware of how their actions could affect our local hatchlings,” said Mote Senior Aquarium Biologist Holly West. “This nesting season, we have already had over 1,200 hatchlings come through Mote’s Hatchling Hospital. The most common reasons for hatchlings to be admitted is disorientation due to artificial lights along the beach and being injured by predators.”

During summer months Mote Aquarium visitors can view sea turtle hatchlings in rehabilitation via an exhibit window in the Hatchling Hospital. These individuals will receive medical care, and when they are deemed healthy, they will be released either on the beach or via boat.

“This is a busy time for Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program," said Mote Senior Biologist Kristen Mazzarella. "The Sea Turtle Patrol has walked the local beaches every morning for the last few months, diligently marking and monitoring nests, and now we are starting to see the evidence of hatches.” When asked how the public can help, Mazzarella replied, “The two most important ways a person can help sea turtle hatchlings is to stay off the beaches at night so you don’t disturb nesting turtles or hatchlings and to shield or turn off lights visible to the beach.”

On the nesting beaches, artificial light from waterfront properties or people with flashlights or cell phone lights can disorient nesting female turtles and their young, which emerge at night and use dim natural light to find the sea. Also, beach furniture, holes, trash and other obstacles can impede sea turtles and their young. Mote encourages coastal residents and visitors to follow the turtle-friendly tips listed below during nesting season, May 1 - Oct. 31.

The sea level did, in fact, rise faster in Florida and the southeast U.S.

For people in the southeastern United States, and especially in Florida, who feel that annoying tidal flooding has sneaked up on them in recent years, it turns out to be true. And scientists have a new explanation.

In a paper published online Wednesday, University of Florida researchers calculated that from 2011 to 2015, the sea level along the American coastline south of Cape Hatteras, N.C., rose six times faster than the long-term rate of global increase.

"I said, 'That's crazy!' " Andrea Dutton, one of the researchers, recalled saying when a colleague first showed her the figures. " 'You must have done something wrong!' "

But it was correct. During that period of rapid increase, many people in Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and other coastal communities started to notice unusual "sunny-day flooding," a foot or two of salt water inundating their streets at high tide for no apparent reason.

In the paper, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the scientists proposed a mechanism to explain the rapid increase: Two large-scale atmospheric patterns had intersected to push up the water off the Southeast coast, causing a "hot spot" of sea-level rise.

This new mechanism, if it holds up to scientific scrutiny, might ultimately give researchers the ability to predict tidal flooding more accurately and warn communities what to expect months in advance.

Meeting on Cortez Bridge replacement to be held Aug. 31st

CORTEZ – The stage is set for the final showdown on the future of the Cortez Bridge.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has scheduled a final Project Development and Environment meeting on the 60-year-old drawbridge on Thursday, Aug 31, at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6101 Cortez Road W. in Bradenton. The hearing starts at 5 p.m. with message boards and maps and project officials who will be available to answer questions. Around 6 p.m., there will a video and more questions. Attendees will have the opportunity to express their preferences.

A four-year history

FDOT began collecting information on the future of the bridge in 2013 when staff members manned at a booth at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival on Feb. 16 and 17. They collected 168 opinions at the festival. Fifty-six percent wanted to rehabilitate the bridge, and 36 percent wanted to replace it.

FDOT held a public kickoff meeting on April 30, 2013. About 170 people attended the three-hour open house at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church.

Staff discussed project issues using aerial photographs of the existing bridge and the surrounding study area. A video explained the study process.

FDOT distributed surveys by U.S. mail and received almost 850 completed surveys. They also received 38 written comment sheets, letters and e-mails through the study website. The results of the completed surveys received in April and May indicated:

  • 51% favored further rehabilitation of Cortez Bridge
  • 43% favored replacement of the bridge;

Of those in favor of bridge replacement:

  • 38% preferred a high-level fixed bridge;
  • 19% opted for a mid-level drawbridge;
  • 33% wanted a low-level drawbridge;
  • 4% favor another option such as a tunnel or another bridge to Longboat Key.

At an alternatives public meeting on Aug. 28, 2014, at St. Bernard Catholic Church, in Holmes Beach, 87 people attended and 60 responded to a questionnaire. Eleven percent wanted to repair the bridge, 23 percent wanted to rehabilitate it, while 72 percent favored replacing it. Preferences for a replacement bridge were 16 percent for a low-level drawbridge, 33 percent for a mid-level drawbridge and 21 percent for a high-level fixed-span bridge. Nineteen percent wanted another plan, such as a new bridge to Longboat Key.

Fixed span gains fans

It was back to St. Bernard Church for the highway department on Aug. 9, 2016, where 179 people attended another public alternative meeting. FDOT officials stressed the fact that the bridge is rapidly deteriorating. To date, they have received 425 completed comment sheets, and the results are 5 percent prefer a low-level drawbridge, 19 percent favor the mid-level drawbridge and 44 percent want the high-level fixed span. Four percent want a new bridge to Longboat Key.

In the past, residents of Cortez Village have opposed the high-level bridge saying it would be out of character with the village’s cottages. They say the higher bridge would have to be longer than the low-level bridge it replaces, impacting some businesses along Cortez Road.

Beruff’s Aqua by the Bay Goes Back Before Manatee BOCC Wednesday

BRADENTON — Controversial developer Carlos Beruff will return to the county administrative building on Wednesday when his proposed Aqua by the Bay development goes back before the Manatee County Commission. The project has now been recommended for denial by both county staff and the Manatee County Planning Commission.

Aqua by the Bay is a proposed development project on the last major undeveloped portion of Sarasota Bay in Manatee County. The site sits behind IMG Academy and is to include 2,894 residential units and 76,000 square feet of commercial space.

Beruff, CEO of Medallion Homes, had initially hoped to build a more ambitious project called Long Bar Pointe that was to include a hotel and marina on the property. After a losing a lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of Manatee County rules on coastal development, he returned with plans for Aqua by the Bay.

The application for Aqua had initially won a recommendation for approval from both staff and the planning commission on April 13 of this year. It then went to the county commission on May 4, where hundreds of citizens showed up to oppose the project on the grounds of excessive environmental destruction and incompatibility with the county comprehensive land use plan, as well as the surrounding communities.

It was ascertained during the meeting that county staff had misunderstood Beruff's plans for high rise condos, incorrectly determining that only two towers exceeding the county's height limit of 35 feet were planned, when in fact the application noted two "types" of buildings over the limit without stipulating a number (applications with the water management board indicated two dozen such towers had been planned).

Deputy County Attorney Sarah Schenk then advised that it would need to be sent back to the planning commission with more clarity. That meeting has been delayed while the developer has gone back and forth with county staff who warned that unless questions about the number of and placement of the towers were better answered, it would go before the planning commission with a negative recommendation.

Despite many issues still seeming to remain, staff nonetheless recommended approval. The Manatee Planning Commission, however, rebuked the staff on Thursday, when it again recommended against approval to the BOCC. Staff then reversed its decision on Friday and is now likewise recommending that the county commission deny they application. Wednesday's meeting begins at 9 a.m. Those attending are advised to get there early as seating will be limited.

Sarasota Bay Watch prepares for the Great Scallop Search of 2017

When: 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Aug. 26
Where: Sarasota Sailing Squadron, 1717 Ken Thompson Parkway
Cost: Free but reservations are required
Contact: sarasotabaywatch.org or (941) 232-2363

Adult scallops filter 100 gallons of water a day but only live for one year. Adult clams can filter 50 gallons of water a day and live for 30 years or more.

As filter feeders, both are essential to a healthy bay, which is why this year, the Sarasota Bay Watch is asking citizens to look for both during the Great Scallop Search of 2017.

“We should change the name to shellfish search,” Sarasota Bay Watch President Larry Stults said.

This year’s search will take place from 8 a.m. to noon on Aug. 26 at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron.

“This is not a harvesting event,” programming director Rhonda Ryan said. “This is an event for citizen scientists to evaluate the local population of scallops and clams.”

Aside from noting Southern hard shell clams, citizen scientists will have the option to explore the north end of Longboat and beyond, a new concept this year.

On Aug. 18, those who register to explore the northern areas will be asked to attend an orientation at Anna Maria Island Sail and Power Squadron to learn more about searching that region.

The scallops found help the Sarasota Bay Watch evaluate age and approximate time of death of those scallops. They can also be used for educational purposes.

Be mindful of summertime algal blooms, report them to FDEP

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Health are encouraging residents and visitors to be mindful during summertime recreational activities as the season’s high temperatures, abundant sunlight and frequent rainstorms annually increase the presence of algal blooms in certain Florida waterbodies. Individuals should avoid contact with algae and can report algal blooms using DEP’s toll-free hotline (855-305-3903) and online at (www.reportalgalbloom.com). Currently there are no health advisories or any reason to believe the health of residents has been impacted.

State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. Celeste Philip said “The health and safety of Florida families is DOH’s number one priority. It is important to avoid coming into contact with any algae and we do not recommend swimming or fishing in areas where algae is seen. We will continue to work with DEP to keep residents, visitors and local officials updated.”

DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said “DEP encourages residents and visitors to immediately report algal blooms to help us respond as quickly and efficiently as possible. Florida is a national leader in responding to and managing algal blooms. We are committed to working with state and local agencies to ensure the health of Floridians, visitors and our natural resources."

DEP and Florida’s water management districts frequently monitor Florida’s water quality and routinely collect algal bloom samples as soon as they are observed to identify algal type and test for toxicity. In addition, staff are deployed to take additional samples in response to reported blooms – whether from a citizen, other response team agencies or other sources. To keep residents and visitors informed of the latest algal bloom monitoring results and activities, DEP has a website where it posts the dates and locations of samples collected. Test results are added as they become available. Persistent blooms are routinely monitored and retested.

Businesses bucked Gov. Rick Scott's rule to notify public about pollution

In April, workers cleaned up 341,000 gallons of raw sewage released because of a pipe break near neighborhoods south of Clermont.

Another 2,000 gallons containing water-purifying chemicals were spilled in June on county property near SeaWorld’s new Aquatica water park.

The two events were among more than two dozen pollution incidents in Central Florida in the first half of the year. None were reported to local media after complaints from industry associations led to a new 24-hour public notice requirement for pollution spills — sparked by a Polk County spill — to be overturned.

But the judge’s decision led to a new law that open-government advocate Barbara Petersen said is an improvement over the situation that existed before the short-lived requirement on polluters. The law allows the media and anyone else to sign up for alerts about pollution incidents, a process that didn’t previously exist.

SBEP Project Creates New Oyster Reef in Sarasota Bay

This spring, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program staff scientist Dr. Jay Leverone collaborated with the State of Florida Marine/Estuarine Habitat Restoration and Restoration Monitoring and Assessment (MEHRMA) program to create 1.2 acres of oyster habitat along the eastern shore of Sarasota Bay near Bayshore Gardens.

Hardworking volunteers helped us bag fossilized shells in biodegradable twine. Over 100 bags were arranged in four 30-foot-wide circles on the bottom of the Bay. The circles were filled with loose shell. They might not look like much now, but barnacles and oyster spat are beginning to colonize the loose shells. Soon, the reefs will be teeming with fish.

Historical maps and images tell us that Sarasota Bay once supported a vibrant oyster community. Coastal development operations including dredge-and-fill activities destroyed much of this valuable hard-bottom habitat. Although the precise acreage of hard bottom habitat lost due to dredge-and-fill activities has not been determined, nearly 4,500 acres of bay bottom are known to have been covered by dredge-and-fill operations. Without hard bay bottom structure, oyster larvae (known as spat) cannot settle and form new reefs. To compensate for these lost habitats, SBEP has embarked on several oyster restoration and artificial reef creation projects.

Oyster beds constitute a unique and valuable component of the Sarasota Bay ecosystem. Oyster beds provide structural habitat for many species of fish and invertebrates; in fact, oyster beds often support the highest species diversity and faunal abundance of any given habitat type within the bay. Oysters are also valued for their ability to improve water quality through their prolific filtering capacity.

SBEP supported a study of the historical distribution of oyster beds throughout the estuary and found that many historical beds have been lost, either to physical disturbances accompanying coastal development, through burial by sediments, or other unknown causes. This study led to the decision by the SBEP to initiate an Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) restoration program within Sarasota Bay.

Controversial Big Pass dredging appeal delayed by judge

An administrative law judge has agreed to delay hearings on a Siesta Key group’s appeal of a controversial state permit that would allow the dredging of Big Pass sand to rebuild Lido Key beaches.

The hearings had been scheduled for the last two weeks in August, but the Florida Department of Environmental Protection asked the court to delay the proceedings by at least two months after the agency’s lead attorney underwent surgery last week following an injury.

Administrative law Judge Bram D.E. Canter agreed to the move, without objection from any of the parties in the case, and later this month the attorneys will pick a new hearing date, according to a court order filed Friday.

The delay marks another setback in the protracted fight over the plan to dredge more than a million cubic yards of sand from the shoals between Lido and Siesta keys to renourish a starved stretch of Lido beaches on the south end of the key.

Record year for sea turtle nests means more hatchlings on beaches

This week marks the halfway point of sea turtle nesting season and Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program’s (STCRP) 36th year. So far this year STCRP has had a record-breaking number of nests from the north end of Longboat Key to Venice – 4,385 loggerhead, 77 green turtle nests. This is an increase of more than 1% for loggerheads and 1,183% for green turtles when compared to the entire nesting season of 2016.

“With these significant increases in sea turtle nests it is even more important for beachgoers and local residents to be aware of how their actions could effect our local hatchlings,” states Senior Aquarium Biologist Holly West, “This nesting season we have already had over 1,200 hatchlings come through Mote’s hatchling hospital, the most common reasons for hatchlings to be admitted is disorientation due to beach lights and being injured by predators.”

During summer months Mote Aquarium visitors can view sea turtle hatchlings in rehabilitation via an exhibit window in the Sea Turtle Hospital. These individuals will receive medical care and when they are deemed healthy will be released either on the beach or via a boat.

“This is a busy time for Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program. The Sea Turtle Patrol has walked the local beaches every morning for the last few months diligently marking and monitoring nests, now we are starting to see the evidence of hatches,” shared Senior Biologist Kristen Mazzarella. When asked how the public can help, Mazzarella replied, “The two most important ways a person can help sea turtle hatchlings is to stay off the beaches at night so you don’t disturb nesting turtles or hatchlings and to shield or turn off lights visible to the beach.”

On the nesting beaches, artificial light from waterfront properties or people with flashlights or cell phone lights can disorient nesting female turtles and their young, which emerge at night and use dim natural light to find the sea. Also, beach furniture, holes, trash and other obstacles can impede sea turtles and their young. Mote encourages coastal residents and visitors to follow the turtle-friendly tips listed below during nesting season, May 1 - Oct. 31.

Venice officials take issue with report that questions city water quality

A report by a national environmental group that questioned the City of Venice’s water quality has prompted both the city and Sarasota County Health Department to push back, questioning the validity of the the survey’s collection methods.

Both Javier Vargas, the utilities director for the city of Venice, and Ray Burroughs, an environmental specialist at the Sarasota County Health Department who monitors compliance for the water system, stressed that Venice is in compliance with state and federal drinking water requirements.

But that’s not what a database released by the Environmental Work Group appeared to suggest last month.

Nominally EWG, a nonprofit environmental research and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., used its own water quality guidelines to assess tap water between 2010 and 2015.

Developers, county beef up for Aqua By The Bay hearings

Manatee County commissioners could forever alter the “longest mangrove shoreline” on Sarasota Bay with their decisions on the future development of Aqua By The Bay.

The county has noticed a public hearing before the planning commission for the proposed 523-acre mixed-use development at 9 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 10.

Aqua also is set to be heard at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16, by the final decision-makers, the Manatee Board of County Commissioners.

Long Bar Pointe LLLP and Cargor Partners VIII, companies controlled by Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman, propose construction of 2,894 residential units and 78,000 square feet of commercial space — including 120 acres of submerged land in Sarasota Bay — southeast of Cortez and north of IMG.

Help build a better future, together, through a sustainability workshop

Early-bird registration is now open for Sarasota County's 12th Annual Sustainable Communities Workshop on Nov. 30, a day-long event that showcases steps to building healthy, resilient, thriving communities.

Wrapped with a "Building a Better Future, Together" theme, the workshop will draw together individuals, businesses, institutions and government bodies to learn about environmental, economic and social aspects of sustainability. Expert speakers will discuss the latest strategies, resources and best practices, and provide hands-on demonstrations.

"The workshop is a great way to network, learn about innovative projects happening here and in other communities, and how you can get involved," said Sara Kane, sustainability outreach coordinator with Sarasota County's UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability Department. "The individual actions you take can have a significant, positive impact for the whole community."

Florida and Sarasota County continue to experience rapid population growth and development, with no slowdown in sight. Against that backdrop, the annual workshop offers insight on sustainable approaches to energy use, construction, healthy living, transportation and more.

The 2017 workshop, to be held at the Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida Event and Conference Center, at 4740 Cattlemen Road in Sarasota, will tackle a suite of sustainability related topics, including:

  • Predictions and Preparations for Climate Change
  • Going Solar in the Sunshine State
  • Engaging Community
  • Sharing a Pathway to Equity
  • Innovations in the Built Environment
DIY: Individual Actions Have Community Impact
Nathaniel Smith, founder and chief equity officer of the Partnership for Southern Equity, will deliver one of two keynote addresses. Smith's firm pushes for balanced growth and inclusive prosperity in the metropolitan Atlanta area. Randall Wells also will deliver a keynote. As director of the Chicago Zoological Society's Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, Wells has studied the effects of boating, fishing, and other human activities on the dolphin population.

Early-bird registration of $35 is available through Oct. 30, and $45 after. Students may register for $20. All registrations include continental breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack. Sponsorship and exhibitor opportunities also are available.

Florida Waters Stewardship course teaches residents how to protect county waters

Water is essential to our very existence, but we often overlook the importance of protecting and preserving our limited supplies.

You can help remedy that through the Florida Water Stewardship Program, offered by Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability. This eight-session course, launching Sept.12, uses expert presentations, hands-on learning, field training, and communications exercises to give participants the tools to become stewards of the area's water resources.

"As a plumber, I only knew one side of water. Now I understand that water is everywhere and connects everything," said Duane Sinkwich, a retired plumber and a graduate of Sarasota County's first water stewardship class, in 2016.

Water is a key driver of our health, environment and economy, and protecting our water resources is critical now and for the future. Water connects us all. We are connected to our streams and bays by our faucets and laundries, to our neighborhood ponds and lakes by our yards and streets, and to our regional and statewide neighbors by our surface and groundwater supplies.

Course participants will explore these connections and resources, learning about local water quality and quantity issues at locations around the county. The course comprises eight sessions:

  • Sept. 12: Watershed Basics and Stewardship - UF/IFAS Extension & Sustainability.
  • Sept. 26: Water Flow, Then and Now - South Gate Center.
  • Oct. 3: Managing Stormwater in Sarasota County - Audubon Nature Center at Celery Fields.
  • Oct. 21: Water Supply and Demand - Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority.
  • Nov. 4: Wastewater Management - Bee Ridge Wastewater Reclamation Facility.
  • Nov. 14: Conservation in Action - Englewood Water Authority.
  • Nov. 28: Communicating Water Stewardship - South Venice Civic Association.
  • Dec. 9: Graduation and Guided Kayak Tour - Historic Spanish Point
This $80 course is open to the public, though seating is limited. Scholarships and government employee discounts are available. Learn more and register early at http://bit.ly/FlaWaterSteward2017 to reserve your spot.

For more information about this course or available scholarships, contact Extension Water Agent Abbey Tyrna at atyrna@ufl.edu or 941-861-9818.

Free “Blue Carbon” wetland workshop August 24th

News Image

Blue is the New Green: Including Coastal Wetlands in Sustainability Planning for Florida

WHEN: Thursday, August 24, 2017 (10am to 3pm)

WHERE: 4000 Gateway Centre Blvd, Suite 100, Pinellas Park, FL (Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council)
REGISTRATION: Online at https://flbluecarbonandsustainability.eventbrite.com.
Registration is free. Lunch will be provided.

Coastal wetlands are an integral part of the Florida landscape, providing many benefits to the surrounding community. A newly recognized benefit is the ability of coastal wetlands to address adaptation and resiliency goals through carbon capture (“blue carbon”). Blue carbon presents a new opportunity to address climate adaptation and mitigation, and tap into carbon finance to support coastal restoration through market incentives. Through this workshop, participants will learn:

  • What is blue carbon, and how can coastal wetland restoration support sustainability goals?
  • How coastal wetland restoration can generate revenue and contribute to carbon neutrality
  • Blue carbon in Florida – case studies of realizing blue carbon potential in Tampa and Naples

This workshop is for regional planning council members, sustainability coordinators, economic developers, urban planners, NGOs, resource managers, etc.

Workshop sponsors include: National Estuarine Research Reserve System Science Collaborative, Restore America’s Estuaries, Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, Tampa Bay Estuary Program and Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

For questions related to this workshop, please contact Stefanie Simpson.

Mote responds to Fraser's dolphin stranding

Mote Marine Laboratory’s Stranding Investigations Program received numerous calls beginning around 12:30 p.m. on July 29, from concerned citizens reporting a group of approximately 20 Fraser’s dolphins stranding along Turtle Beach on Siesta Key.

Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program staff arrived on scene at approximately 1:00 p.m., and was assisted by the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP), a Chicago Zoological Society Program in collaboration with Mote, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). The majority of the dolphins had already been pushed back to the sea by beachgoers, and they were milling in a tight group in choppy waters several hundred yards offshore.

An 81-inch-long, 158 pound male did not rejoin the rest of the group despite an attempt by responders to send it back. It was examined by Mote’s staff veterinarian, Dr. Adrienne Atkins, on site, and following discussion with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, it was determined that the most humane decision was to euthanize the dolphin based on the species and the multiple re-strandings. Initial findings from a necropsy (animal autopsy) were inconclusive with regards to cause of death. Tissue analyses may provide insight when results become available in several weeks, but not every stranding has a cause that can be determined.

The remainder of the group moved offshore and out of sight. Late in the afternoon, two more dolphins were reported to have come ashore off Caspersen Beach in Venice. They were pushed offshore before FWC and SDRP responders arrived.

Booker High EcoExplorers learn about Florida’s natural wonders

News Image

This June, ten lucky students from Booker High School in Sarasota spent a week snorkeling, boating, swimming, and taking long walks on Florida's beautiful beaches. These students were participants in EcoExplorers, an overnight camp which mixes classroom learning with a vigorous schedule of unique field trips to create the ultimate marine science camp experience.

While either watching a sea turtle nest on Casey Key or swimming with manatees in Crystal River, these students had the ideal opportunity to learn about the natural beauty of Florida, and how to protect it. Ultimately, the goal through EcoExplorers is to motivate these young students to become more aware of conservation issues in the community where they live, instilling in them a sense of pride and responsibility for Florida's natural resources. EcoCampers are asked to fill out questionnaires on the last day, and each one marked their time at the Camp as "excellent". Several students also discussed their desire to pursue educational studies in environmental or marine sciences toward an eventual career in conservation.

Since the camp's founding in 2015, S2S has been able to target the program to low-income students and provide the experience absolutely free of charge. For the 3rd Annual EcoExplorer Camp just this June, they have received support from Publix Charities, the Community Foundation of Sarasota, Booker High School, Triad Foundation, Sarasota Bay Estuaries Program, as well as the generous contributions from individuals, which provided scholarships to the campers.

Staff is scheduled to return to Booker High School in six months to follow-up with the campers, test their retention of knowledge, their continued interest in conservation issues, and career choices.

President Trump's budget would eliminate Florida's Healthy Beaches bacteria monitoring

Time and money may be running out for the program that tells you if it's safe to go to the beach.

President Donald Trump's proposed budget for 2018 would eliminate funding for Environmental Protection Agency grants that pay for the Florida Healthy Beaches program, which measures bacteria from fecal contamination at beaches and rivers.

The state health department has received $495,000 from the EPA to fund the program until Aug. 1, spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said in an email. The state is scheduled to receive $445,000 to pay for it until August 2018.

"We have not received word that our grant will be affected after the grant cycle in 2018," Gambineri wrote. "Should the grant opportunity not continue in the future, the department will consider alternative funding options."

The health department's county offices conduct the tests and post the results on their websites. In 2016, the Florida Healthy Beaches Program posted 153 avoid-water advisories.

The tests measure levels of enteric bacteria, which inhabit the intestinal tracts of humans and animals.The bacteria in water is an indication of fecal pollution.

Ingesting or contacting contaminated water can cause upset stomach, diarrhea, eye irritation and skin rashes.

State delegation asks Corps of Engineers to stay neutral in water wars

Florida's two senators and its entire congressional delegation are asking the president to ensure that a federal agency remains neutral in the ongoing court battle between Florida and Georgia over water use from the Apalachicola River system.

Gov. Rick Scott in 2013 filed a lawsuit in the U. S. Supreme Court against Georgia claiming that the upstream state's water use caused the collapse of Apalachicola Bay's oyster population. In February, special master Ralph Lancaster recommended that the court throw out the case because the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates reservoirs upstream from Florida on the Chattahoochee River, was not a party to lawsuit.

Study of freshwater turtles to improve treatment of toxins in sea turtles

New research is paying off long-term for endangered sea turtles facing illness and even death during Florida red tides. From 2011-2014, the NCCOS sponsored project “Brevetoxin Metabolism and Physiology – A Freshwater Model of Morbidity in Endangered Sea Turtles” used non-endangered freshwater turtles as models to determine the effects of Florida red tide on endangered sea turtles.

Karenia brevis, the Florida red tide organism, produces a suite of nerve toxins called brevetoxins. The toxins cause human respiratory illness along beaches and accumulate in shellfish, which, when consumed by humans, cause Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning. Severe blooms result in mass mortality of fish and a number of protected and endangered species. Among the species impacted are threatened and endangered sea turtles.

With sea turtles, brevetoxin concentrations that compromise organ physiological and immune functions are generally unknown. Due to the legal status of federally protected sea turtles, basic physiological questions cannot be addressed directly, as they require experimental investigation with controlled doses of toxins on healthy animals. The use of freshwater turtles as a surrogate physiological system allows for the determination of effects of brevetoxins on turtle physiology and immunology and helps develop effective treatment plans for sea turtles.

Led by Dr. Sarah Milton (Florida Atlantic University) and co-lead Dr. Catherine Walsh (Mote Marine Laboratory), the research project used freshwater turtles to identify how red tide toxin gets into turtles, how long it stays, and the impacts on organs such as the lungs, muscles, and nervous system. The research continued beyond 2014 with funding from the U. S. National Institutes of Health and other agencies.

Florida communities prepare for sea level rise, potential costs to local economy

Imagine: $16 billion of local coastal property permanently underwater, including up to 30,000 homes. Property tax rolls slashed by more than $250 million. Tens of thousands of coastal jobs displaced or lost, cutting upwards of $161 billion from the Tampa Bay regional economy. Waterfront parks and infrastructure washed away or made obsolete.

“It’s a statement of the problem,” explains Brady Smith, a planner at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. “One could say the problem is sea level rise. What does that mean, exactly? What are our vulnerabilities?”

“The Cost of Doing Nothing,” a study released earlier this year by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, paints a striking economic portrait of how rising sea levels might transform the area’s economy by 2060 if Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Manatee county communities fail to take more measures to reduce their flood risk.

The idea behind the report? To equip local communities with a more tangible understanding of what may be at stake as seas rise.

Could a byproduct of chip manufacturing be the next big thing in coastal conservation?

Have you heard the one about the potato and the oyster? It’s not a joke, but a game-changing technology -- a three-dimensional grid made from potato starch -- that has the potential to help reverse the decline of the world’s oyster reefs. It might not have the sexiest of names and it hasn’t even been fully tested yet, but Biodegradable EcoSystem Engineering Elements (otherwise known as BESE-elements) is already making waves in the world of coastal conservation.

The problem is that, as vital as they are, oyster beds are in serious decline. Like the balding, gray-suited film directors at the Oscars, oysters don’t get as much press as the colorfully coutured stars (coral reefs). But they are equally endangered. Over the last two centuries, 85% of the world’s oyster habitat has disappeared. Coastal run-off, natural predators, disease and over-harvesting have taken a toll. Oyster reefs that once grew 100 feet deep in some areas have been all-but eradicated by oyster dredges. “The health of our estuaries hangs in the balance,” says Birch. “The importance of restoring oyster reefs cannot be over emphasized.”

Birch has been a part of the solution since 2005 when she began managing the Conservancy’s Indian River Lagoon Restoration project. Charged with replenishing the lagoon’s oyster reefs, she was struck by the community support she received. “Until then I had no idea how charismatic oysters are. In the seven years I worked in the lagoon,” she remembers, “we attracted over 25,000 volunteers. Adults, school children, the disabled…people from all walks of life and abilities came out to help replenish the lagoon’s oyster beds, making and deploying oyster mats (a mesh with oyster shells attached, designed to attract baby oysters and become the foundation of a reef).”

Sea level rise is accelerating in Florida, scientists warn

Clay Henderson has lived on the same block along the Indian River in New Smyrna Beach for 34 years. Living in a storm-prone state like Florida, you expect to see a river top its bank on occasion, but only in the past two years has Henderson seen it happen on sunny days.

He hears similar stories almost everywhere he travels in Florida. In dozens of locations along the state's 1,350-mile coastline, sea level rise is no longer an esoteric discussion or a puzzle for future generations to solve. It's happening now and is forecast to worsen over the next 20 to 30 years.

Canal systems in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Gables have become a liability. For officials in Port Orange and Longboat Key, fortifying storm drains against encroaching seawater is a concern. Along the Withlacoochee River on Florida's Gulf Coast and the Matanzas River at Marineland, residents report finding saltwater species they've never seen before in those waterways.

Venice Pier is spotless: Suncoast Reef Rovers are keeping it clean

News Image

The entire Gulf beach under the Venice Fishing Pier is clean thanks to the work of the Suncoast Reef Rovers of Venice and their many friends. A team of divers and helpers descended on Brohard Beach on Saturday July 15, 2017 to remove underwater debris from a spot that is very popular with families, fishers and beach lovers.

Thanks to the many groups who helped, including Florida Underwater Sports, Sarasota Bay Watch, Venice Police, Venice Police Citizen Volunteers, Sharky’s Restaurant, Reelcycle, the City of Venice and NAUI Green Diver. It was a fun group of people who enjoyed good company and perfect weather during the event.

The good news is that the pier was pretty clean. The divers had to search to find debris – and they got ALL of it. Wow! There were 27 SCUBA divers assisted by 24 “topsiders” on land, 4 student volunteers, and three boats.

Interesting marine debris was found such as sunglasses, a guitar pick, $20, a man’s ring, and a cell phone along with the more typical stuff - anchors, traps, rope, knives, lures, line, and rods & reels that altogether added up to 141 pounds of waste.

The successful event concluded with a generously discounted selection of delicious lunches provided by Sharky’s on the Pier.

The water was clear, Florida Underwater Sports brought the doughnuts and the divers even found a few sharks teeth.